What are Powerful Friends For?

Answer: To get you in trouble!

Quick post today on a trope not uncommon in fantasy fiction, but which doesn’t see much use in gaming (at least, not that I’ve seen). Allow me to paint a picture for you …

A powerful wizard appears before a startled group of people and declares that seven of them must at once come with him on an errand of terrible importance. Seven step forward, and once they have grabbed what gear they can, they set off from their safe home and into the wilderness. With the wizard’s help, they overcome their first challenge, a small army sent by the Adversary to stop them, but must then part ways with the powerful wizard and sally forth alone.

High and mid levels in the back, low levels in the front, please

You’ve certainly seen something like this if you’ve read your Tolkien, and I’m sure in other places as well. In game terms, a high level character partners with several low level characters, gets them started on an adventure, and then leaves them to their own devices.

In games, the adventurers are usually the same level (or close to it), and the accompaniment of a much more powerful NPC under the Referee’s control would appear to be a colossal mistake. In fact, it would be if that powerful NPC was to follow along for an entire adventure, getting everyone out of scrapes and leaving little for them to do. As the adventure-starter, though, there are possibilities.

For one thing, the instigator, as we’ll call them, can fill the players in on the background of the adventure – the whos and wheres and wherefores.

For another, their presence for the first big challenge of the game permits the Referee to make it a whopper – something epic and un-survivable without the instigator. For a long term campaign, this can be an early shot in the arm of XP for the low level adventurers, to help them on their way. More importantly, it is a way to immerse the players into the setting and the quest in a dramatic way.

Finally, when the instigator leaves, the players will find themselves in a position similar to the conquistadors of Cortes. The adventurers might not be able to turn back, and so they must go forward. The challenges they face from this point on are a bit more keyed to their abilities (though some will be deadly if they are not handled properly), but they will always remember the instigator and their first taste of dangerous adventure.

Dragon by Dragon – July 1979 (27)

I just drove in from Cedar City, and boy is my car tired.

Vaughn and Pfundstein – Go watch their play – it is excellent

I use that by way of an explanation for why this post is showing up now, rather than this morning. My daughter and I traveled to the Utah Shakespeare Festival to watch The Taming of the Shrew, starring Brian Vaughn as Petruchio and Melinda Pfundstein as Katherine. It was fabulous. If you get the chance, visit the festival. Now I want to do a Shakespeare edition of Bloody Basic in iambic pentameter. I’m not sure that’s possible, but boy would it be a fun challenge.

And now that I’ve given some love to the USF, it’s time for a review of The Dragon #27, published 36 years ago this month – time for a baby to be born, grow up, and begin yelling at kids born when 4th edition was published to get off his lawn. As he should, the grubby little beggars.

The ads the issue opens up with aren’t new, but I did notice this bit:

Great artifact of the size of the hobby 36 years ago.

The first article in this issue is “Agincourt: The Destruction of French Chivalry”, a game review by Tim Kask. As he writes, “Ah yes, that’s a Dunnigan game.” As in James Dunnigan. As an avid reader of his excellent books How to Make War and The Quick and Dirty Guide to War, this piqued my interest in the game review (I also note that Al Nofi did the historical research – I love his CIC articles at Strategy Page). Kask praises how he makes the game feel like the period, reflecting the fact that the French mostly defeated themselves at Agincourt. He finds it both a very complex game, and a very playable game.

To my delight, the review was followed by an article from Dunnigan himself – “Agincourt: Designer’s Notes”. One extract:

“I would say the single most difficult aspect that I had to incorporate into the design of Agincourt, were the combined arms and doctrine factors that were critical to the outcome of the battle, This is best shown by looking at the rules covering crowding and fugitives and their effect upon morale.”

I note this, because it’s similar to what I try to do with Bloody Basic and articles on fantasy campaigns in NOD (and not always successfully) – how do you interject the feel of the subject you’re covering without making the game needlessly complicated. It brings to my mind the idea of first principals.

Keeping the theme alive, Steve Alvin now writes “The Political and Military Effects of Agincourt on the Hundred Years War”. I love history – majored in it in college – and I know most war game buffs have at least some regard for it, but I wonder how popular articles like this were back in the day. I hope very. I wonder how they would play now?

Get your scissors out, because Jeff Swycaffer‘s article “Elementals and the Philosopher’s Stone” has a full-color cutout. In the article he mentions the four elements of Greek philosophy and the elementals they inspired … and then remarks on the twelve new types of elementals discovered by “a mad philosopher”. These would be the quasi-elementals and/or para-elementals. I can never keep them straight. Swycaffer visualizes the placement of the elementals thus:

“To visualize the placement of the elementals in the scheme of reality, imagine a globe. The equator is divided into eight segments: air, cold, water, moisture, earth, heat, fire, and dry. Thus the circle is complete, with dryness adjacent to air. This is reasonable, as the alchemists of the 1200s depicted the elements in this fashion. Here water is both cold and moist, and both air and fire are dry.

This is merely the plane of the equator, however. At the south pole, evil. Good and evil are the poles of the physical world, and no one element is more evil than good, or vice versa.”

He then goes on to explain how the elements interact with good and evil – these are the qualities, which include pleasure, fertility, beginning, light, ending, darkness, pain and barren. He explains that the “elementals of good and evil” are the demons of Eldritch Wizardry, D&D Supplement III and the angels of Stephen H. Domeman that appears in The Dragon #17. He then goes on to describe, in basic terms, the elementals of qualities. For example:

“ENDING: Appears as a normal human. Closes doors (as a wizard lock), dispels good magic, and curses as an Evil High Priest.”

For those who need to know, the Ending Elemental has 2 HD, movement of 9, does 1d6 damage per hit, has AC 9 (remember, this is old “lower is better” AC), and is friends with air, water and cold elementals.

“From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” this month is by a guest writer – Bob Bledsaw. He created a little something called Judge’s Guild, which produced some of the great little gems of the OD&D era. He covers all the things JG had done at that time for D&D – a nice little bit of horn blowing, but well deserved I think. I liked this quote:

“Ya don’t tug on Superman’s cape, and ya don’t mess around with the play balance …”

Truer words were never spoken.

Next up is an “Out on a Limb”. God, this is classic geek-fight material, and it should surprise nobody that these are the folks that invented the internet. An example, from an extremely long letter to the editor by Ray Rahman of Minnesota. The first paragraph of his letter:

“Upon reading Mark Cummings’ review of Ralph Bakshi’s film THE LORD OF THE RINGS, I became as concerned about Mr. Cummings’ ethics as he was of Mr. Bakshi’s morals. His review of the film begins dramatically with the statement: “Your film is a ripoff! Yes, rip off! I know that the expression has moral connotations, and that you haven’t done anything wrong legally; but I happen to believe that moral obligations often make demands that go beyond the demands of laws. So stay with me for a few paragraphs, and I’ll explain why your film is immoral … Let me start by saying that I’M not an outraged purist.”


Next up is an ad for Boot Hill, a game I know little about but would love to explore. I’ve been hankering to do a sort of Old West Bloody Basic, but I’m waiting until Grit & Vigor is finished so I can base it on those rules.

Gary Jordan now presents a variant that might delight fans of the recent Marvel movies, “Tesseracts: A Traveller Artifact”. The idea is using these not as a way to confuse mappers (as they had previously been presented to DM’s), but as a boon to the players of Traveller. Really, it comes down to using matter transmitters to move folks around a ship.

Up next is a new cartoon to The Dragon called “The Voyages of Exploration Ship Znutar, A Starship on a Mission of Empire”. I don’t remember this from the era of Dragon magazines I grew up in, so I wonder how long it survived.

Gary Jordan now chimes in with another Traveller article on Star System Generation. This is a scheme for filling hex maps, filling in the presence of planets, star ports, etc.

In the Designer’s Forum, “Divine Right” is covered again (it was TSR’s newest game), by Glenn and Kenneth Rahman (there’s that name again – can’t be a coincidence, can it?).

Lance Harrop now presents “A Quick Look at Dwarves”. This is a long article on how dwarf armies are organized, with an accompanying chart.

Wow – they got into it in the old days, didn’t they. Still, there are lots of great ideas – the dwarven engineers, miners, masons, etc. forming divisions of the army. He adds the following at the end of the article:

On Painting Dwarves: Elite units of dwarves should have white beards (reminds me of the Graybeards units in Warhammer), dwarf armor should be shiny and a mix of metals, dwarves don’t seem to have national colors (“don’t seem” – well, they aren’t real, so I suppose they don’t) but use colors to designate individuals, and whatever you do, don’t make your dwarves too gaudy.

On Dwarvish Tactics: Vanguards always drive towards the dwarf commander, dwarves love to tear into orcs, dwarf morale is very slow to break and dwarves are known to leave the field of battle after their leader is killed, but they do not rout – they just walk off slowly, carrying his body.

The Design Forum continues now with Jay Facciolo writing about “The Emerald Tablet”. This is a miniatures war game published by Creative Wargames Workshop (side note – imagine how many games there are out there that have never been cloned, for good or ill). I love the name. The game was an attempt to make something that was neither too specific or vague, and which incorporated magic into the rules, rather than just overlaying magic atop ancient or medieval warfare. If nothing else, you have to appreciate the cover I found at BoardGameGeek.

It sounds like an interesting take, with each unit in the game begin given one of four orders before the game begins – attack, skirmish, hold or support (another unit). These orders can only be changed during the game by one of the figures representing the players. Interesting idea, and requires a great deal of thought before the game starts. The magic segment of the game requires quite a lot of explanation, and appears to be, if not complicated, then at least engrossing. It even comes with a bibiolography (and a bit of cheesecake)

“Giants in the Earth”, one of my favorite features, comes next. I really need to do something like this myself in NOD – maybe I should let people vote on G+.

This edition includes the following literary giants:

Alan Garner’s DURATHROR (13th level fighter/Dwarvish paladin)

Fritz Leiber’s FAFHRD (20th level fighter/8th level thief) and THE GRAY MOUSER (18th level fighter-thief)

Edgar Rice Burrough’s JOHN CARTER OF MARS (30th level fighter)

Eh – never heard of ’em.

Robert Camino writes “Go Boldly Where No Man Has Gone Before: Expanding Imperium. This is a variant which requires two sets of the game, the boards being connected by eight jump routes which are always charted by the players (whatever that refers to). Love the art!

Great advert comes next, for Tome of Treasures, published by GRP Enterprises of Arlington, VA. The tagline got me “Plumb the depths of the Cube of Time and the Bow of Precognition. Explore the effects on hapless orcs of the Sword of Rout. Gems, jewelry, and 172 brand new, quality magic items are described …”

Jerome Arkenberg now presents “The Mythos of Africa in Dungeons & Dragons. This is one heck of a tricky subject, as treating Africa as though it a single culture is ridiculous. The article presents many gods. For creatures, we get:

“In this category fall: witches, ghosts, were-lions, were-hyenas, and fairies. These are all the same as in the D&D Monster Manual.”

Turns out, we had all the African monsters we ever needed. I have a feeling that either the article was too long and something had to be cut, or the research was just too difficult back in the 1970’s. The article also includes many heroes.

The “Dragon’s Bestiary” presents the Horast, created by Mary Lynn Skirvin. Also known as a “whipper beast”, a very rare creature with a whip-like tail that deals 4d6 damage. This one didn’t make it into the MM, but fear not, for the article ends with this:

“By gracious arrangement with the author of AD&D, Gary Gygax, monsters appearing in this column are to be considered OFFICIAL AD&D MONSTERS.”

So, if you need a monster with a whip tail, D&D has you covered. Officially.

Comic strip time. We have Finieous Fingers (their spelling, not mine), which again includes some nudity of the female variety – D&D was a game for grown-ups, after all.

No, I’m not going to show it this time. Finieous’ butt from the last post will have to suffice.

In “Bazaar of the Bizarre” (the elements are all coming together, aren’t they), Gygax presents the Bag of Wind. Write your own jokes, folks.

Dig the back cover, kids:

Looks like I need to up my game with NOD.

Fun issue, with plenty for D&D’ers and war gamers. Check it out if you can find a copy.

Dragon by Dragon – December 1978 (21)

Just imagine all the spiffy Ronco products people were unwrapping on Christmas day in 1978! A few folks might have also been perusing the December 1978 Dragon magazine while they were waiting for Christmas lunch or dinner. Let’s see what it included …

First up, we have a groovy little advert from Ral Partha that would make a good elven army list or encounter list. Let’s make it random …

01-05. Wood Elf Archers (Longbow and Shortsword)
06-25. Wood Elf Infantry (Longbow and Longsword)
26-30. Woof Elf Cavalry (Lance)
31-50. Sea Elf Pikeman
51-60. High Elf Swordsmen
61-75. High Elf Spearmen
76-95. High Elf Cavalry (Two-Handed Swords)
96-100. Elfin Command Group – Elf Commander (5th level fighter/magic-user), Elf Lieutenant (3rd level fighter/magic-user)

First article this issue is a revisit of the Search for the Nile game. This is basically a response to the article in the last issue of The Dragon by the games creator.

Okay – have to share this next ad with everybody …

Next up, we have a neat little table of titles for powerful NPCs by Brian Blume. This one works like the old menus at Chinese restaurants – choose one bit from column 1, one from column 2, etc. Here are a couple examples:

The Lord Protector, His Most Distinguished Illustriousness, The Crown Prince Bob, the Incomparable Slaughterer of Dragons

The Guildmaster, Her All Triumphant Laduyship, Lady Cassandra, The Terrible Scythe of Honor

Kinda groovy – worth checking out. I’ll probably turn it into a random table and use it for Nod now and again.

Willie Callison now presents a Cure for the “Same-Old-Monster” Blues. Every long-time DM has gone through this. Mr. Callison’s suggestion is to look at the world around you and draw inspiration from nature. The giant snake, for example, can be described as any real species of snake – different types of attacks, different color patterns, etc. You get the idea.

Callison also provides the next article – Inflation in D&D. In 1978, inflation would have been foremost on people’s minds, and Willie complains about the lack of realism inherent in the D&D economy – i.e. too many gold pieces floating around. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really give any solutions to the problem. So, kind of a pointless article.

Prophet Proofing (or how to counter foretelling spells) by David Schroeder attempts to throw a monkey wrench into spells like clairvoyance, clairaudience, wizard eye, ESP and x-ray vision. I’m generally not a fan of ideas on how to screw up powers that players should rightly be able to exercise with the characters. I mean, a fighter with a high strength and two-handed sword sure does kill lots of orcs – shouldn’t there be a way to screw that up? Sneaky tricks are a good thing in D&D – keeps the players on their toes – but at the same time, the clever use of spells to overcome obstacles is one of the points of the game.

Sensible Sorcery is an article by Ronald Pehr that explores ways to make researching spells more difficult for magic-users. I think I’m detecting a theme in this article.

Robert Wagner (no, probably not him) now delivers a Boot Hill Encounter Chart. The chart is for town encounters, and is divided into two parts – Town till 8 p.m. and Town after 8 p.m. The early chart gives a 1 in 6 chance of an encounter, while the late chart gives a 2 in 6 chance. Early encounters include pickpockets, various job offers (a very good idea!), being shot at by 1 or 2 people, being mugged by 1 or 2 people, being falsely arrested or have 1 or 2 deputies after you. The late encounters include jealous husbands, being challenged to a gun fight, seeing a bank robbery, more job offers and being arrested by a U. S. Marshall (maybe this guy!). It’s a very good chart, and easily adaptable to a fantasy game or one set later than the Old West period.

Rod Stevens delivers Encounters with Personality. Here, he provides a few ideas on giving monsters and NPCs a bit of history and personality for encounters. Did DM’s actually not do this back in the day? Perhaps – old D&D had a few elements of wargame/boardgame to it back in the day, but articles like this show the progression to a more story-based game. A couple examples:

1. BLARG: Ftr. Cha/Evil. Hobgoblin. Blarg hates everything but ogres. These he emulates but they hate him.

3rd 20 5 16 7 7 6 8 6 +1 +1 shrt. sd.

8. CLARENCE LINDIR: Ftr. Law/Good. Human. He is a constable who is always accompanied by 11 other constables. He will do anything to make an arrest including arresting jaywalkers, people with water in wine skins, or anything else he can think of. He often makes up absurd charges. When in court he will then charge resisting arrest if the party didn’t come peacefully. Of the hundreds of arrests he has made, he has only gotten 2 convictions. The townspeople pointedly ignore him and call him “Clarence the Clown” behind his back.

1st 9 7 1 7 9 1 0 9 7 8 + 2 + 2 mace & spear

Next come the game reviews. Olympica is set in 2206, where a human colony on Mars is being conquered by a group mind called “The Web” (prescient in a way, huh?). One player controls the assault group being sent by the U. N., while the other player defends the Web generator from the assault.

Don Turnbull of Cambridge, England presents a section of his Greenlands Dungeon – The Hall of Mystery. It’s quite a long description, but it involves riddles (sort of), mirrors (one a mirror of opposition, the other of life trapping containing a succubus) and a host of monsters in rooms. I will share the map …

Gary Gygax pops in next with a strategy guide for Rail Baron. I’ve heard good things about this game (one wonders if it could have been used in concert with Boot Hill), but I’ve never played it. Since I haven’t played it, I won’t chime in on how good a guide it is, but it does look as though it’s quite thorough. In fact, I think it might be the longest article in the magazine.

A couple more game reviews follow. King Arthur’s Knights, which reviewer S. List describes as being similar to TSR’s DUNGEON. Players choose to be a knight errant, knight at arms or great knight, which increasing levels of power and obligations, as well as tougher victory conditions. The map was apparently gorgeous, the rules book 16 pages long and there were 11 decks of small cards. There are several Magic Places on the board, and on each one places a magic treasure and magic guardian.

Timothy Jones now presents some optional rules for DUNGEON. There are new characters (halfling, dwarf, cleric, thief and paladin), new prizes (including a bag of dung!) and new monsters (red dragons, blue or white dragons, witches, evil wizards and evil priests).

T. Watson then has a review of Tolkien’s Silmarillon. Watson describes it as the bible of Middle Earth, with the Valar as the angels, Melkor/Morgoth as Lucifer and the elves as the chosen people. Watson seems to like it, despite it being long and dry, but also seems to indicate that it’s for folks who really want to know more about the imaginary Middle Earth.

In James Ward’s Monty Strikes Back, we get another installment of gonzo dungeoneering done right. Here’s a sample:

“The three ancient white dragons guarding the door were no problem. It was just a matter of running in the chamber hasted and invisible and throwing three hold monsters at things. They didn’t have any treasure, they were just there to slow us down a bit. As we walked through the door ‘Monty gave his “evil” chuckle (which always meant we were in big trouble) and we were told that we were sliding down a sheet of glare ice. We wound up pinioned against a mass of ice spears and everybody but Freddie had taken damage. He then thought it would be a great idea to use his flaming power to melt the spears away. Ernie and I, knowing the horrors Monty could think up, tried to stop him but it was too late. We were hit from above by partially melted ice stalactites and again Freddie was the only one unhurt.”

This was my point about D&D once being something like a wargame/boardgame. The fun was in moving around the pieces, not telling their life stories.

And that’s it for December. The reviews were interesting, a few of the articles useful, but honestly not among the best issues I’ve read.

Enjoy your Saturday gang!

Dragon by Dragon – April 1978 (13)

Niall armors up like a barbarian!

Dragon #13 is a mixed bag. Mostly good, a little wasted space (in my opinion of course, one man’s waste is another man’s … hmmm, that’s not going to sound right … skip it). Let’s take a look, shall we …

Tim Kask starts off with his editorial spiel, noting that this is the first of the monthly Dragons. It is also the April Fool’s edition, which we’ll regret a little later on. Gencon moves this year from the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva (the what in where?) to the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha – they needed more room. TSR Periodicals is also planning a move to a bigger building.

Shlump Da Orc (I’m guessing that’s a nom de plume) produces a surprisingly long article on figuring out how heavy giants are and how much they can lift. In fact, it is multiple efforts to answer this pressing question (one of the ones that suggests to me D&D was already beginning the process of moving from practice to theory with some folks). One formula explains that a 30-ft. tall giant should weigh 11.75 tons, have a 16′ 9″ chest and an 8′ long torso. Would you care for the semi-official weight formula?

Anyhow … the bit on how much a giant could pick up is a bit more interesting, if for no other reason than because of the following assumptions they use about the average human:

The average person can:

1) Carry his full weight on his back
2) Hold in his arms 3/4 of his weight – dead weight that is balanceable
3) With difficulty pick up half his body weight in dead weight
4) With difficulty pick up half his body weight in a struggling animal
5) With mild difficulty pick up 1/4 of his body weight a struggling animal with two hands
6) Fairly easily pick up 1/4 of his body weight in one hand of dead weight, balanced and somewhat symmetrical

Maybe these guidelines will prove useful to you one day.

The other useful bit is the weight (pounds per cubic foot) of various substances, such as:

Aluminum: 170 pounds
Brass, Forging: 525 pounds
Copper: 560 pounds
Iron, Malleable: 450 pounds
Gold: 1,205 pounds
Platinum: 1,340 pounds
Silver: 655 pounds
Steel, Cold Rolled: 500 pounds

Agate: 160 pounds
Beeswax: 60 pounds
Bone: 110 pounds
Diamond: 200 pounds


This one actually came in quite handy for something I was just writing for NOD, and definitely will be transcribed into an Excel document for future use in my writing. Thanks 30-year old Dragon!

Rob Kuntz now treads into dangerous territory with Tolkien in Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not sure if this was pre- or post-lawsuit. This one is an official pronouncement on the “position on D&D in conjunction with other worlds of fantasy which influenced it conception and specifically to clear up the fallacious beliefs regarding Tolkien’s fantasy as the only fantasy which inspired D&D”

The article mostly boils down to “D&D does not simulate Middle Earth, nor is it intended to, so please stop your nerd-whining”. This continues to be a problem in gaming, primarily in that many people forget that these are games, which by design are about allocating scarce resources to achieve victory (which, actually, is also what life is about), and not make-believe sessions in which whatever you want to happen does.

More interesting than this article is the inset by Brian Blume The Bionic Supplement for Metamorphosis Alpha. Bonzer! Random dice roll to replace your parts with bionic bits, and what those bits do. Totally worth reproducing in its entirety:

Jon Pickens is in next with an equally awesome article – D&D Option: Demon Generation. We begin with a kick-ass piece of art …

The article gives a way to generate additional “Types” of demons, with the following assumptions – all demons have Hit Dice and Gate ability appropriate to their level, all of Level III or less are vulnerable to normal weapons, the rest being vulnerable only to magical weapons, Magic Resistance 50% at Level I, increasing by 5% per level thereafter and special abilities based on the demon’s level. The powers are divided into 6 levels, and frankly, this looks like a blueprint for a demon class. I won’t reproduce it all, but worth checking out.

Jerome Arkenberg now presents the Japanese Mythos for D&D – again, very extensive article on the gods, goddesses, monsters and heroes of Japanese myth and legend, though the info on each god/demon/hero is pretty light. If you want a super rules-lite version of D&D, imagine if all you knew about a character was his Armor Class, Hit Points, Movement Rate, Magic Ability (i.e. level of magic-user or cleric), Fighter Ability and Psionic Ability.

Up next is the April Fool’s bit – a couple pages of song parodies. The less said the better.

Tim Kask now presents WARLORD: Correcting a Few Flaws. Since I know nothing about the game, I won’t comment on the article. Sounds like a fun game, though.

Gardner F. Fox now presents The Stolen Sacrifice, another adventure of Niall of the Far Travels (not to be confused with Niall of the Just Running to the Corner for Ice).

“The man moved silently through the shadows, keeping always to the darkest places. He moved as an animal might, his body poised for instant action, a big hand on the hilt of the longsword by his side. His eyes darted from a doorway to the far corner, where the wind blew a length of scarlet silk hanging from the wall. Caution was in his great body, for he knew that should he be seen this night, death would be his reward.”

Fineous Fingers finds out that just walking up to an evil wizard’s stronghold is stupid …

Yeah, you hate him, but DM’s love him. Meanwhile, Wormy introduces barbecued dwarf burgers.

We round it out with James Ward explaining a few tricks for adventurers – the kind of things that remind you that, at least back in the day, it really was a game, meant to be played and the rules exploited.

That’s it for #13. All in all a pretty useful issue, and especially good if you enjoy Gardner Fox.

Dragon by Dragon … March 1977 (5)

I dig this cover – this is what D&D games should look like!

Three months into the new year of a new game! Before I get into this issue, I’d like to direct folks over to White Dwarf Wednesdays at Tim Brannan’s blog.

What did the oldsters come up with for this issue? Let’s take a look …

A fantasy story by Gardner Fox shows up in this issue – it’s amazing how many “real authors” showed up in the pages of what was still a pretty new magazine that represented a very new hobby. Maybe these guys didn’t have many offers in the late 1970’s – the golden age of magazine stories and illustration had passed, but still, it’s pretty cool.

The big deal in this issue is the Witchcraft Supplement for Dungeons & Dragons – a title I’m sure served as ammunition for the anti-D&D crusade back in the day. What’s awesome about this article, right off the bat, is that they didn’t know who wrote it, but published it anyhow! Right under the title is a request that the real author please let them know who the heck he or she was.

The article starts off with a bit on how witches can show up on the wilderness encounter table. I always love this stuff – the idea that there is a single, unifying wilderness encounter table for all of D&D, and if we add witches to D&D we have to shoehorn them into the table. Reading these articles, you can’t help but love this weird, new world of gaming that was being grown back in the day.

The first thing you need to know about witchcraft is that witch spells do not affect djinn, efreet or clerics of any alignment. All witches have saves equal to warlocks (I love when they used level titles in place of the level number). Good (i.e. Lawful) witches can perform 7 spells per day, but there is a 4% chance that she is ancient, and is thus a Priestess who can cast 10 spells per day and 1 of her own special spells once per week. Why 4%? God only knows.

A few of the new Lawful witch spells are calm (which turned into calm emotions), summon elemental (12 HD) – which lasts while she concentrates, rejuvenation (reduces age by 5 years), dissipation (disperses elementals, clouds, mist and magic wall spells) and comfort. Priestesses get several new spells – youth, influence, banish any one creature, enchantment (produces any one magic ring, potion, misc. weapon, misc. magic item) and seek.

Black witchcraft includes pit, fire box, diminish plant/animal/men, plant entrapment, paralyzing pit (!), undead control, aging, circle of blindness, curse, poison touch and curtain wall. Many of these spells have modern versions – I don’t if they originated in this article or if it’s just a coincidence.

Now we get an explanation for the Secret Order witches … they were designed to challenge high level wizards and magic weapon-armed lords when traveling through the wilderness. Necessity is the mother of witches, apparently. They have some additional new spells and several special weapons. Lots of great material here – hornet cape, assassin’s eyes – find this issue and read away.

James M. Ward now chimes in with “Some Ideas Missed in Metamorphosis Alpha” – basically some things that should have been in the rulebook but were not. Kinda taking a mulligan here. He also adds “Tribal Society and Hierarchy on Board the Starship Warden”. Good stuff – apparently the dominant lifeforms on the Warden are the wolfoids and androids.

This issue’s Creature Feature is the ankheg. Again, the statblock is a bit chaotic. Since the ankheg is open content (and old as the hills), I’ll reproduce it below …

Number appearing: 1-6
Description: 10-20 feet long, brown chitin overall, pink underside
Armor class: 2 overall, underside class 4
Movement: 12/6 through ground
Hit die: 3-8 (8 sided die)
% in lair: 25%
Treasure: B2
Squirt acid for 1-6 die of damage according to size
Bite for 3-18 points damage
Magic resistance: none
Alignment: neutral

These babies can sure deal some damage!

Next is the letters section. My favorite bit is a guy describing his campaign world:

“Although it is not our own Earth, it is only about eleven light years from our world, and therefore most of the culture is a parallel of our ancient cultures.”

True scientific realism, indeed!

Gygax now chimes in with How Green Was My Mutant, with random tables on determining the appearance of humanoids in Metamorphosis Alpha. Naturally, I need to roll one up:

Skin/Hair Coloration: Brown
Skin Characteristic: Knobby
Color Pattern: Whorles
Head: Bulbous
Neck: Wattled
Body: Long
Facial Features: No nose
Hands and Feet: Wide
Fingers and Toes: Four of each
Arms: Normal
Legs: Thin

Damn – that’s one good looking fella! Best thing about the tables, to me, is that it’s almost impossible to roll anything like a normal looking human being, which is as it should be.

I won’t cover Fox’s tale Beyond the Wizard Fog, as Jamie Mal has done a fine job of that himself. (Google it, darlings)

Charles Preston Goforth, Jr. (fake name? has to be a fake name) provides new rules for magical research with one year of playtesting (real time) and nine years in game time!

Essentially, they give you 10 levels of spells with a percentage chance of success, time required and the gold piece investment.  The chance of success appears to always be 20% or 100%, depending on how much gold is spent. A 1st level spell, for example, costs you 2,000 gp for a 20% chance of success, or 10,000 gp for a 100% chance of success. 10th level spells (whatever the heck they are) cost 5.12 million gp for a 100% chance of success.

There are some restrictions on spells to permanently increase stats (including spell levels up to 18th). I pity the poor wizard who sunk several million gold pieces into increasing their intelligence when they could have waited a couple decades for 3rd edition and done it for free.

Armor and weapons can be enchanted up to +1 with 2 months of work and 2,000 gp. “Serious enchanting”, as he puts it, requires 10 months and 10,000 gp. I have a weird feeling this system would very quickly get out of hand!

Bill Seligman now gives us one of the classic articles of the old school – Gandalf Was Only a Fifth Level Magic-User. The best point of the article, to me, is to hopefully make people see just how incredible the average 1st level magic-user really would be in the “real world”. Still, Seligman was clearly an early model of Raggi in terms of bringing out the nerd rage.

Garrison Ernst now presents another installment of The Gnome Cache. No – I didn’t read this one either – too dang much writing to get done.

And that rounds up the first issue of 1977. The vitality in the early game, and the presence of so many gamer archetypes that linger to the modern day makes these magazines great fun to read.

Dragon by Dragon – June 1976 (1)

Who drew it? Couldn’t find it in the issue.

Yeah, everyone else does the whole “review every issue” or “review every page” thing, so why the heck can’t I?

Other than Great Britain and Iceland finally ending their codfish war (such a terrible waste), the first issue of The Dragon (formerly The Strategic Review) was probably the big highlight of June, 1976. So what does this little gem contain?

We have an article by Fritz Leiber, the man himself, talking about his wargame Lankhmar and giving a brief tour of Nehwon. Leiber closes this article with a bit on houris. Here’s an adaptation for Blood & Treasure (you know, the game I haven’t actually released yet).

Every hero (4th level fighter) attracts a houri as one of his followers provided he has a charisma of at least 15. The houri requires upkeep to the tune of 100 gp per month. As Leiber explains, a houri is so “slimly beautiful” that she “make all men their helpless slaves and intoxicate even a Hero to madness”. In play, this works as follows:

– Houris have 1d4 hit points (i.e. they can be killed by a dagger). They wear no armor, and may only wield a dagger themselves.

– All 0 or 1 HD male humans, demi-humans and humanoids within 10 feet of a houri must pass a Will saving throw or move directly toward the houri, rapt with fascination and unable to attack her (unless they are attacked by someone else, in which case the spell is broken).

– All higher level male characters within 10 feet of a houri must pass a Will saving throw or have their effective level cut in half.

Sounds like a useful follower to have, but heed the Mouser’s warning – “Women are ever treacherous and complicate any game to the point of sheerest insanity.”

Larry Smith provides a guide to running the Battle of Five Armies using the Chainmail rules.

Wesley D. Ives provides a task resolution system, as he informs us that a “more standardized system is needed” than DM’s just making it up as they go along. New School and Old School were clashing even back in 1976.

The system works by determining randomly a type of dice (by rolling d% and adding the attribute to be tested), from d4 to d12, rolling it and multiplying it by the attribute to be tested to find the percentage chance of success.

So, let’s say I want to jump across a chasm. This involves strength, and my dude has a strength of 13. I roll d% and get a 35. I add 13 to 35 and get 48, which tells me I need to roll a d8. I roll it, get a 5 and multiply that by 13, giving me a 65% chance of success. See – much easier than saying “roll under your strength” or “roll a save vs. paralyzation” or “roll 1d6 – you succeed on a 1 or 2”. Thank goodness for systems.

James M. Ward asks whether Magic and Science are compatible in D&D. Of course, he thinks it is (else it would be a pretty boring article). He introduces a race of people called the Artificers who use a trio of interesting high-tech items.

Lee Gold delves into languages. She notes that humanoids have a 20% chance of speaking Common, which makes much more sense than 3rd edition allowing dang near every sentient creature in the multiverse speaking Common (and thus negating the point of even having languages).

Jake Jaquet tells the tale of “The Search for the Forbidden Chamber”. Check it out for a picture of the infamous “Greyhawk Construction Co. LTD” and a Recyclesaurus.

Len Lakofka presents some miniature rules that were apparently going to be used in a 64-man elimination tournament at GenCon.

The creature feature presents the ever-loving Bulette (pronounced boo-lay, except not really), with an illustration that is really quite good. The reproduction isn’t perfect, but it’s a nice action shot featuring three armored warriors (God, do I prefer realistic armor to some of the fantasy nonsense that seems to predominate these days). The stats note that its mouth has 4-48 pts and its feet 3-18 points – i.e. 4d12 and 3d6. It took me a minute, but I finally realized this was the damage they dealt.

The description notes that it is a hybrid of armadillo and snapping turtle, and that, when full grown, they can dwarf a Percheron (a draft horse that originated in the Perche Valley of northern France of course – man, don’t you guys know anything?)

Mapping the Dungeons is a neat little feature, presenting the names of active DM’s. The FLAILSNAILs of its day, I suppose.

Joe Fischer gives tips on mapping a wilderness. He uses colors for the terrains and simple symbols for features – triangles for hamlets, squares for towns, circles for cities and crosses for fortresses. Circle any of these for ports. Article has a nice Conanesque barbarian illustration as well.

Peter Aronson adds four more levels onto the illusionist, as well as a few extra spells (1st – ventriloquism, mirror image, detect illusion*, color spray*; 2nd – magic mouth, rope trick, dispel illusion*, blur*; 3rd – suggestion, phantasmal killer*, illusionary script*, dispel exhaustion*; 6th – mass suggestion*, permanent/illusion* (no – the slash doesn’t make sense to me either), shadow/monsters III*, programmed/illusion*, conjure animals, true sight*; 7th – astral spell, prismatic wall, maze, vision*, alter reality*, prismatic spray).

The spells marked with an asterisk are detailed in the article, in case you wondered who invented phantasmal killer. Lots of classic spells here. Alter reality apparently works like a limited wish, but you first create an illusion of what you want to happen, and then the … spell description cuts off.

Lin Carter and Scott Bizar present “Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age”, which reminds you of how important wargaming still was to the hobby then. I think wargaming is pretty basic to the experience, really, which is why I threw some basic rules into Blood & Treasure for mass combat. I’m hoping to test them out this weekend with the daughter. She doesn’t know this yet – so keep it under your hat.

Gary Gygax (you might have heard of him) gives rules for hobbits and thieves in DUNGEON!, a game I so completely regret getting rid of I’d like to punch myself in the face.

“Garrison Ernst” (pseudonyms are as much a part of the history of this hobby as dice and beards) presents a chapter of “The Gnome Cache”, in which he gives an introduction to Oerth and its place in the cosmos. Oerth is a parallel Earth with the same basic geography as Earth, it claims, save Asia is a bit smaller and Europe and North America a trifle larger. It is peopled by folks similar to ours, with similar migrations, but it separates from Earth about 2,500 years ago. He also explains the difference in scientific laws (i.e. magic vs. technology) and that nobody knows what lies in the Terra Incognita of Africa and across the Western Ocean.

It might be fun to draw the nations of Oerth on a map of Europe. We’ve all heard that Gygax’s campaign was originally set in a fantasy North America, but here he says Europe, so perhaps Europe it should be.

Larry Smith now chimes in with the three kindreds of the Eldar – the Silvan (or Wood Elves), the Sindar (or Grey Elves) and the Noldor (or Exiles, the greatest of the elves). Apparently they all have a chance each game year of crossing the sea to the land of Valar – that would be a fun house rule to spring on players of elf characters.

“Say Bob, roll d% please”

“Okay … got a 9”

“Sorry Bob, your 6th level wood elf just went to the land of Valar. Roll up a new character.”

The wood elves can advance as fighters as far as they want, but are limited to 2nd level magic-user spells and may not use wands or staffs and have a 10% chance of going to Valar each year. Sindars are the regular D&D elves (and have a 25% chance of going to Valar each year). Noldor are uber elves with no level restrictions and with a 150% bonus to ranges and effects of spells. They have a 5% chance of going to Valar after performing a great deed.

Which begs the question, why would you ever play a non-Noldor elf?

Note: Totally digging the art in this issue.

Not a bad issue. Lots of goodies. I like the houri bit for fighters, the elves going across the sea is fun, and you get some neat hints about Lankhmar and Oerth from the guys who invented them. Worth the read.